Advent also a time for reconciliation

December 11, 2012

In the midst of all the usual non-spiritual preparations of the season — decorating, buying of gifts, cleaning, cooking, etc. — the Church invites us to spiritually prepare ourselves to celebrate the nativity of our Lord. Beyond the hustle and bustle that accompanies the season in an increasingly secularized culture lies a message of ultimate love: the nativity reminds us of God’s faithful love for us, of his promise of old that a Savior would be sent to redeem us. For us who are called to live on this world, but not belong to it (2 Cor 10:3), responding to this message requires an intentional preparation. 

Preparing for his coming was the theme for the readings we contemplated during the second Sunday of Advent: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his path!” (Lk 3:4) cried out John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, charged with announcing the immediate arrival of the Messiah. 

A very fruitful way to straighten our path, repent and remove anything that separates us from God is through the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. In this sacrament we experience an encounter with a loving, merciful God who welcomes us back to the communion we had rejected in turning away from Him. Since Advent is a time of renewal and conversion — to pause for a moment to inwardly look into our hearts to assess our readiness to celebrate His saving incarnation — it is a propitious time to celebrate this wonderful sacrament. The fruit of our responding to the voice of God through the prophet. Preparing and turning our hearts towards God in this sacrament is the peace we seek this Christmas and beyond. In the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation we experience the very same peace that was proclaimed to the shepherds the day our Savior was born: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Lk 2:14). The peace that we seek elsewhere can only be found in the encounter with God, when we put aside the overly materialistic side of the season and let our hearts rest on the only thing that endures, which is God’s love for us made manifest in the incarnation. 

This seems to be the sentiment expressed by Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York, president of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), at the opening address of the USSCCB meeting on Nov. 12, 2012: 

“But I stand before you this morning to say simply: first things first. We gather as disciples of, as friends of, as believers in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life,’ who exhorted us to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God.’ We cannot engage culture unless we let Him first engage us; we cannot dialogue with others unless we first dialogue with Him; we cannot challenge unless we first let Him challenge us.”

Having worked on our own preparation, conversion and reconciliation, we are called to share this message of God’s love and peace with others around us. In recent times we are being called to re-propose the good news of Christ to others, especially to our brothers and sisters who for a variety of reasons have fallen away from the practice of the faith. This is the exhortation made to us more present since the days of the Second Vatican Council, and made explicit by the popes in recent times in the call for a new evangelization. It is no coincidence that in the new evangelization is also included a call to greater participation of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. 

Pope Benedict XVI called the Sacrament of Reconciliation, “a path that must be traveled in the work of evangelization” because the new evangelization is “fed by the sanctity of the sons and daughters of the Church.” Blessed John Paul II spoke in similar terms in his apostolic letter, “As the Third Millennium Draws Near,” where he asked us to “make a journey of authentic conversion with a renewed appreciation and more intense celebration of the Sacrament of Penance.” 

In a similar way, as the joy of the nativity draws near, let us continue our Advent preparation celebrating the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, and sharing with others the message of God’s love for us this Christmas. 

Juan Carlos Moreno is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.